Memorial Website of Ignaz Goldziher
Studies in Hungary
“The child prodigy”
As a child, Goldziher, who had been brought up in the spirit of strict religiosity and commitment to Jewish learning, soon surpassed his classmates. At the age of four he could already read, by the age of five, he had finished reading the book of Genesis and, while attending elementary school in his native city and with the help of private tutors, he delved more deeply into Jewish, especially Talmudic studies.
He finished the first five years of secondary school, mostly as a private student, in the Cistercian Secondary School, and in addition, between 1861 and 1865, he took private lessons from Moses Wolf Freudenberg, a leading Hebraist of the time. He published his first booklet, Sichat Jiczchak at the age of twelve. His teacher praised the young author, calling him Ignatius autorculus.
In September 1865, the family moved to Pest but Ignaz, because of his poor health, was forced to continue his studies as a private student, at the Protestant Gymnasium of Pest, from which he graduated in 1868. He soon found a wonderful means to satisfy his insatiable hunger for knowledge by regularly visiting the University Library, and by attending classes in Philosophy, Classical Philology, General Linguistics and Oriental Studies as a special audit student at the Royal University of Pest of such outstanding scholars as Iván Télfy, Cyrill Horváth, Szende Riedl and Arminius Vámbéry.
Vámbéry treated his first student, whom he mainly taught Turkish and Persian languages, with fatherly love and paved the way for his career. Goldziher acquired the basics of the Arabic language, that later became the centre of his scientific interest, through self-instruction and reading. It was at this time that Goldziher’s second publication appeared, a translation of Turkish folktales. Vámbéry mentioned at an Academic session the extraordinary progress of his young disciple in Oriental Studies.
It was also Vámbéry who acquainted Goldziher with Protestant intellectual circles, where he could get further support. Mór Ballagi provided him with access to his rich library and introduced him to protestant theology and biblical literary history. Despite this, Goldziher did not abandon his Jewish studies, and regularly attended the Talmudic classes of Samuel Löw Brill, where he also found a good friend in the person of Vilmos Bacher. Besides his studies, he started to take on private students, one of whom was Bertalan Ónody, later a famous expert of Turkestan melons, whom he taught Turkish.
After matriculation, he was able to enrol at Pest University as a second-year student. He continued his previous classes and took up Hungarian Linguistics. For his outstanding performance, he was twice awarded the pro diligentia prize which carried a cash award of 50 forints.
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